File photo - A digital billboard flashes its advertisement near the intersection of Lacrosse and Anamosa streets in this file photo taken Wednesday, March 23, 2011. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

Rapid City's ban on digital billboards suffered another defeat Wednesday in the South Dakota Legislature.

A bill barring local governments from banning "any advertising technology" passed the House committee and is only two steps away from becoming law.

Senate Bill 157 is fiercely opposed by most West River lawmakers but has the backing of advertising companies, many East River legislators and Brookings-based digital sign manufacturer Daktronics.

It passed the House Commerce & Energy Committee 9-4 Wednesday after extensive debate.

The bill's supporters said Rapid City's ordinance violated state law and harmed businesses.

"Local jurisdictions have the right... to regulate billboards," said Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, who is also the Senate majority leader. "They just cannot ban billboards, nor can they ban digital billboards in current law. This is simply a clarification."

Officials with Daktronics argued digital billboard bans threatened their company's image and well-being, making repeated references to the 2,200 people they employ in Sioux Falls and other places in South Dakota.

"We're concerned with what events happened in Rapid City, because we think it would hurt our national reputation if our own state ends up prohibiting (digital billboards)," said Al Kurtenbach, chairman and co-founder of Daktronics.

But a delegation of business and civic leaders from Rapid City said this was nonsense.

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"This is not a fight between Rapid City and Daktronics," Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker told the committee. "This is not an anti-Rapid City bill; this is an anti-every-city bill. This issue is about local control."

Businessman Steve Zellmer said that far from billboard bans being anti-business, it was SB157 that would hurt.

"You can't get into Rapid City as a tourist without being assaulted by (billboards) from any direction," Zellmer said. "The most common complaint we get from tourists in Rapid City is, ‘This is a beautiful part of the country - what are you doing with all these billboards?'"

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But this testimony from the Rapid City contingent, backed by lobbyists for the South Dakota Municipal League and the South Dakota county commissioners, failed to win over the committee, which only had two West River lawmakers on it.

In comments and questions, many of them said they believed Rapid City's ban on digital billboards was unnecessary and recommended the use of zoning to control outdoor advertising.

"I agree you've got a problem in Rapid City, but you need to take care of it through your zoning," said Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings.

After the vote, Kooiker said he is hoping for a better result when the full House takes up SB157. "We were just outnumbered," Kooiker said.

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or david.montgomery@rapidcityjournal.com

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